What better chance, they said, what better chance to put across that strange, small niche of knowledge that you managed to accrue while meaning to do something else entirely?
Yes, it’s true that for most of my twenties and even a bit of my thirties I knew of course that I was about to be anointed as a world famous rock star and so the most important thing I could do with my time was to just work on an interesting backstory, something for the biography ya know?
While existing as the indiest of indie musicians in this the indiest of all cities, I took the tried and tested route of paying rent, kebabs and späti beers by leaving the rehearsal room and heading for the streets.
What I didn’t expect is that I would fall in love with the experience of being a street musician, so much so that over the next fifteen odd years street music would become more my metier than the one I thought would define me, ie songwriter, indie folk dude and you know like wildly successful – though still indie! – touring artist.
What do I love about street music?
The biggest thing is its honesty – it’s just you, with basic instrumentation, playing straight to another person, to other people. There’s been no marketing done, no advertising lead-up to some album release or concert, no hype, nothing. You stand up with a guitar – or whatever – and you play to whoever is there – in the middle of his or her day to day existence, not in some special place that has been designated as the place that you’re meant to play music to people, and the place they’re meant to go and hear it.
And I love watching people smile. The most disgruntled ones most of all. If you see someone who’s down in the mouth and, often enough, when they see you, they harumph or shake their heads – and then through the song you watch as they slowly come around, as they nod their head, and those people especially – if you leave them at the end with a smile on their face – there’s really no feeling like it in the world.
And then there’s the freedom. The freedom to step out into the world and start singing, start playing. I’ve always believed that music belongs on the street, it belongs in our lives, it belongs in our everyday, it belongs in our small and large moments. It shouldn’t be bottled, or shut away, or made into some exclusive thing. The freedom to step out into the world, and to place yourself in the middle of the lives of a bunch of strangers, and to be allowed to make them smile, put a lilt in their step, to watch their shoulders lift. That’s a gift, a gift for everyone.
And don’t get me wrong, it’s got nothing to do with ego. It’s music that is the magic, it’s music that is the trick.
Which brings me to the Fete de la Musique. Yes, it’s for the buskers/street musicians too, I mean the very heart of the FETEBerlin is about that very thing:
About taking music to the streets. Twenty-first of June, official beginning of summer AND longest day of the year, is the day that was chosen those years ago by the Paris culture minister to celebrate all the people who played music in that particular city; and from there of course it spread, until it became the worldwide phenomenon that it is today.
It’s a simple celebration of music. And of course, through music what we’re especially celebrating and promoting is the very opposite of the world of all those politicians, people’s parties and oddballs who insist on polarising the world, leaving only the two extremes of thinking and being; instead, through a musical city-wide free festival like this one, we celebrate togetherness, menschlichkeit, humanness.
I know it’s a cliche, but it’s true: Music is the one language that all humans share. We were all in the womb with our mother’s heartbeat pulsing through into our bodies; we all feel at peace when we hear that steady beat again.
Talking about street music, one of the more wonderful aspects of FETEBerlin is that the senate, the government of Berlin, has declared this one day – from 4-10pm – open season on the city. While (for whatever strange reason) playing on the streets isn’t actually allowed without a licence, for this one day, you can just download the licence from the FETEBerlin website and you’re allowed to play anywhere, anything, and no one can stop you.
– Be polite
– Be nice
– Remember that this is about coming together, about love
– Don’t be TOO loud (keep everyone happy)
– For this particular day, there is no exchange of money as regards music. The music is for free, for everybody.
Which is why the Fete de la Musique aka FETEBerlin is a cool opportunity – If you want to get out on the streets to play, be part of this great Europe-wide celebration of music and togetherness, anti-polarisation in action,
Just check out the FETEBerlin site and download the licence they will have available there soon – click on Infos für Mitwirkende. They’ve also put together a little buskers’ guideline for you!
So there you go, if you want to get out there and just do it, just for an experience, then you can’t find a better chance to get your teeth into Playing On The Street.
A guest post by Noel Maurice, busker, expat, co-founder of the blog and network indieberlin and author of “The Berlin Diaries”.